Designing a seismometer: Teachers' notes

Students use a seismometer modelling kit to design and build a more realistic model seismometer.

Learning objectives

Students will:

  • design a more realistic model seismometer using the coil and magnet idea
  • compare the performance of their model seismometers to that of real seismometers.


This activity builds on detecting vibrations and is intended to bridge the gap between the simplest model seismometers and real seismometers.

Students should be aware that the frequency range which this model seismometer will detect is higher than that of real earthquakes, so it would not be a good earthquake detector. However, depending on the construction, it may be very good at detecting lots of other vibrations in the local environment.

It is important to check that the software is already installed on the computer(s) you plan to use and to confirm any further set-up details before you use this activity in class. You can find details of how to download and use Audacity in the pdf 'Downloading and using the Audacity software'. ('Audacity' is free, open source software).

The boom in the seismometer modelling kit allows students to experiment with different elastics, springs or bungee cords, different arrangements of slotted masses, magnet and coil at one end, and different hinge arrangement they choose at the other: some possible arrangements of the boom are shown on the page.

The bungee cord can be threaded through a hole on the boom and simply knotted. If you use string instead, you will need to fasten it to a washer, as a knot would slip through the hole in the boom.

Resources needed

Each group will need: